For my PCT thru-hike I have opted to bring along a Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol.
At first I was thinking, “Why the hell do I need a sleeping pad? I don’t have a problem sleeping on the ground, and not bringing one will save some pack weight (and money).” Then I thought a little harder about it.
A sleeping pad is more than some luxury you bring along to make the ground a more desirable sleeping surface. Sleeping pads drastically reduce heat loss, and can provide utility beyond a more comfortable night’s sleep.
You basically have three options when selecting a sleeping pad: an air pad, a self-inflating pad, and a foam pad (air-mattresses are not an option, sorry). Arguments exist for each of the three, but I have selected a foam pad for this journey, and not without reason.
I have decided to go with a foam pad for two main reasons: it can also be used as an exercise mat or ground cover, and it will be readily available to me at all times along the trail.
The primary argument against foam pads is that they are uncomfortable and bulky. Personally, I find a foam pad (or the ground for that matter) to be a comfortable sleeping surface (for stomach, back, or side sleeping) – so grow a pair. As far as bulkiness goes, strapping my pad to the outside of my pack easily avoids any space concerns, and the convenience of being able to readily deploy my pad easily outweighs the need to have a smaller and more compact one.
And best of all, no risk of holes!
THE Z LITE SOL
The Z Lite Sol is a closed cell foam pad, and is a popular choice amongst the foam pad enthusiast community. It shall be my sleeping companion, exercise mat, and makeshift chair all along the Pacific Crest Trail.
Mine is of the “regular” variety (72 in instead of 51 in long) and weighs a hefty 14 oz (410 g). It has an r-value of 2.6 and the aluminized surface of the pad supposedly increases heat retention by 20%.
I have heard that my Therm-a-Rest may wear out after a few months of sleeping, but I suspect this is merely the whining of those who expect to be as comfortable as possible each night (which is a bit ironic for someone sleeping on the ground). I suppose only time and experience will tell.